Community enraged by temple demolition (Posted on 03.07pm Nov 04, 2001 )

We are told that 'a study' was conducted through the local government authorities, and that 'some of these temples were not serving their purpose and warranted demolition!

It is rather strange that if such a study was ever conducted, were the relevant authorities, in this case, the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) or the registered temple authorities ever told of it?

It must be noted that MIC has an exco member in the Selangor state government who should have at least had notice of such a finding. He would be there to assist the party prepare the necessary appeals, and where warranted, manage its crisis management teams so that 'it will not jeopardise our political relations or MIC's grassroots support' as rightly pointed out by MIC president Dr S Samy Vellu.

But this did not take place, despite the much publicised 'close consultation' and mesra rakyat claims and slogans!

And who is the rightful authority, except the MIC and the temple authorities, to determine whether a 'temple is serving its purpose or not' and to justify the recommendation for demolition?

BINTANG WALK

Instead, in an obvious show of 'high handedness and arrogance to the appeals for restraint' the Sree Veera Bathra Kalaiman temple in Bandar Sunway was demolished by the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) when the Hindu community was observing the 10-day Navarathi period of fasting and prayer.

While some party has pointed out that it was highly possible for MPSJ to have executed the demolition by wrongly interpreting the governing laws, some statements made by the council president was puzzling.

According to The Star (October 31), a newspaper which used to give prominence to the local council, quoted Ahmad Fuad Ismail as saying: "We had announced a long time ago that we intended to beautify and develop the area into a walkway resembling Bintang Walk. The temple was in the area we wanted to develop."

Ahmad Fuad was further quoted as saying that "by the end of the year, the council would start to act against squatters in the area as the project was scheduled to start early next year."

It has now become obvious to understand the urgency to single out the Sree Veera Bathra Kalaiman temple in Bandar Sunway as the first target among the 30 temples to be demolished in Selangor.

To the state government, I say: Show us the so-called studies made by your local authorities. Tell us where are the other 29 temples which must seal the same fate. We need to know all these.

The irony in these matters is that, in several cases, the temples were already in existence, even before the local government authority was formed.

And I am told that in several affected sites, temple committees had the relevant approvals. As such, this will only create a rather embarrassing situation for the Barisan Nasional government that proclaims itself as being 'multi-racial, multi-religious and tolerant' and that action would only be taken after proper consultation with affected parties.

CONTROVERSIAL POLICY

When such controversies erupt, it is even more inexplicable for the Selangor state government to justify its controversial policy stating that a place of worship can only be built in an area if there are between 2,500 and 5,000 devotees.

It wouldn't be surprising for some to claim that this policy is racist. Some may even conclude that the policy is devoid of any human understanding, and insensitive towards the minority groups in a multi-racial and multi-religious country.

One may even ask: Is the policy requiring a set number of devotees to build temple fair and reasonable? Can it be sustained in the long term, specially when housing quotas for several housing estates in Selangor have already been set at the ratio of 75 percent bumiputra and 25 percent non-bumiputra?

It is a pity that despite the 'early warnings' signaled through the recent events in Kampung Medan, lessons have not been learnt.

Were these policies ever discussed or debated among the various religious and political leaders as is the nature and spirit within the Barisan Nasional government?

Or are we seeing an emergence of a silent radical extremist force within the government agencies and civil service that harbours an agenda of their own? If unchallenged, will it result in the worsening of race relations and polarisation in the country?

ROUGHHOUSE TACTICS

Several months ago, the construction of a church was stopped when 'extremist and fanatical elements' in Shah Alam opposed the project after all the relevant approvals were obtained and piling works started.

There were allegations of roughhouse tactics - such as police reports, signature campaigns, memoranda and delegations - used by certain quarters to influence the authorities to stop the church construction.

Alarmingly, there are reports that four churches have been attacked nationwide, and until today, those behind this spade of attacks are still not brought to justice.

There are over 16,790 temples in the country and it will be foolish of any state government to go on a campaign of demolition by confining itself to 'studies from its local government authorities' and not carry out comprehensive discussions, accompanied with the relevant facts and figures to justify the drastic action.

It is again in moments like this that my call made 15 years ago becomes a reminder. I have repeatedly called for a Race Relations Act in the country to protect the rights and interest of minority communities. In the absence of one, many 'policies seem to be made on an ad-hoc basis', which if unchallenged, will pose a threat to peace and stability in the near future.

It is vital and important - and in the interest of the Barisan Nasional government - that certain 'over-zealous and religious fanatics' in the country's civil service and policy-making bodies be immediately uprooted so as not to endanger the peace and security of the nation and all that we have for over 44 years.

Dr. Jacob George
Subang Jaya